Gugu Zulu died while climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. Picture: Instagram.

Johannesburg - The death of 38-year-old fitness and sport enthusiast Gugu Zulu on Mount Kilimanjaro on Nelson Mandela Day has South Africans questioning whether more could have been done to evacuate him to get medical attention.

According to Sean Disney, director of the extreme adventure company Adventure Dynamics, between eight and 10 people die on Kilimanjaro every year. Of those, he believes 90 percent are health related and not due to guide errors.

“Most people who have complications say they are battling to breathe. But if it is a pulmonary oedema or even cerebral oedema, you can develop respiratory problems, including water on the brain.”

Disney has climbed Kilimanjaro 21 times and reached the summit of Everest twice. His company is hosting two trips to the Kilimanjaro National Park next month.

“The only thing to do when you experience breathing problems is to descend. You have to increase the oxygen levels by getting to a lower altitude - and you have to evacuate quickly - ideally on foot.”

Precautions to take

Because Disney did not know exactly when Zulu died, he couldn't comment on decisions made at Kibo the night before, but his experience has taught him ways to deal with developing health issues at altitude.

“We carry drugs to combat symptoms and sometimes have a gamow bag - a sleeping bag that pumps up and increases in pressure to essentially put the person at a lower altitude,” he said.

He also carries a pulse oxymeter that measures oxygen saturation in the blood, which can indicate if they have the placebo effect or a pulmonary oedema or infection.

In the Trek4Mandela guide received ahead of their training schedule, the climbers were given an outline of the symptoms of high altitude sickness, including a warning to descend immediately and seek medical attention. It warned that flu-like symptoms and respiratory infections could enhance altitude sickness.

Richard Mabaso, the tour co-ordinator, said Zulu was put on a drip by a doctor who was part of the Trek4Mandela team and later rushed down the mountain. “Everyone suffers from some kind of symptom - headache, nausea, hallucination - and we take all the complaints seriously,” he said.

Disney said the Trek4Mandela team had, as far as he could ascertain from reports, followed protocol by taking Zulu down.

The Star

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